A/N: Okay, guys, this is a pretty quick update. I think you guys deserve it, because last chapter was kind of a filler but this one…it's a big one. It's also fairly epic in length. This one's been really interesting to write; it's been one of the occasions when I felt like it's a major inconvenience to be dragged away from the laptop. I was so glad to finish it I couldn't wait to post, so here you go. Reviews would be great, and they'd be a great inspiration for more quick updates (hint…haha). Enjoy.

Chapter Eight

We Are Broken

Keep me safe inside
Your arms like towers tower over me
Cause we are broken
What must we do to restore our innocence
And all the promise we adored?
Give us life again, cause we just wanna be whole

~Paramore

"Heeey," Laced with sympathy, Haley's greeting, as she slid into the seat next to Peyton at the beginning of first period Monday morning, was quiet a downer.

"Hi." Peyton answered casually, as if nothing of significance had happened over the weekend.

Haley was peering at her searchingly. "You okay?"

Peyton smiled humorlessly. "You can go ahead and mention it."

"Okay." Haley sighed. "I'm sorry. What Luke did…it sucked."

"Yeah, it kinda did."

"But I talked to him, and I really think he's just-"

Peyton gave her a pleading look, "Hales, I know you're trying to make me feel better about it, but can we maybe skip the whole analysis thing? I know you're going to end up giving me his excuse and I'm just…I'm not ready for that."

Haley nodded, biting back a speech. "Okay, I get it."

"Thanks."

Hesitantly, Haley added, "But I know he wants to talk to you."

"Yeah, I figured he might."

Haley watched her closely; Peyton looked exhausted and sad. Maybe dealing with Lucas at all right now wasn't the best thing for her. "You gonna be okay? When he does?"

Peyton nodded slowly. "Yeah, I can handle it."

LPLPLPLPLP

Rachel was watching Peyton and Haley the Traitor talking from her seat in the front row. Teresa followed her gaze. "You have anything else planned for her?"

Ignoring the question, Rachel asked, "Why is she still here?"

Bevin looked confused. "What do you mean?"

"We got her locker, her driveway, her car…why hasn't she gotten the message yet?"

Teresa rolled her eyes, "Relax, Rach, we're making her life totally miserable. She knows she's not wanted."

"But she isn't leaving," Rachel muttered in annoyance.

"It's not like she can just move. It's not like it's her decision or anything…besides," Teresa grinned. "If she left we'd have to stop."

Rachel continued to watch Peyton. The others weren't being serious in the messages to Leave or Go Home, but she was. To them, it was all about the act of it, the torment of the gesture. For Rachel, it was a goal.

She needed her gone. Because every time she looked at her, she was jerked back to That Day. She would see her walking down the hall and suddenly it was like being back on the street, that smug bitch telling her not to move Brooke, asking if she was alright as if she cared.

"We have to do something worse." Rachel stated. "We have to make it so she wouldn't dare stay another day."

The others exchanged looks. "I think we're doing alright."

"How much worse can we go?"

"I don't know," Rachel said quietly. "I'll think of something."

LPLPLPLPLP

"Peyton Sawyer?"

Peyton looked up, startled out a daze, the way she usually spent second period. Her teacher was looking at her, a notice in her hand, obviously just delivered by the freshmen office assistant who was now slinking out of the classroom.

Standing uncertainly, Peyton moved to the front of the room and took the paper, summoning her to the principal's office. She stifled the urge to groan; what now?

As soon as she gave her name to the school's secretary, Peyton was waved through. She tentatively opened the door to Principal Turner's office, to find both the principal and Lucas staring at her.

Momentarily thrown by Lucas' presence, Peyton simply stood, gaping foolishly at them. Principal Turner offered her a smile. "Hello, Ms. Sawyer. Could you take a seat, please?"

"Sure…" She slid into the chair next to Luke, dedicating every ounce of her will power to not looking at him.

"Thanks for joining us," Turner said, businesslike. "Lucas here came down to report some vandalism to your car." When Peyton said nothing, focusing too hard on keeping her gaze straight ahead, Principal Turner added, "I'm curious as to why you haven't reported it?"

"It, uh…it just happened Friday afternoon so…"

"Lucas says there's been other incidents. Your locker, for example."

"Right."

Turner looked at her for a long moment, then moved on, "Lucas seems to think Rachel Gatina is the one responsible. Can you confirm that?"

Flustered, Peyton stammered, "Um I-I don't know. I mean, I didn't see it…"

"Peyton…" Lucas said quietly.

"But you have reason to believe it was her?"

Peyton's cheeks flushed, and she paused uncertainly. "Yeah, I guess…"

"You guess?" Turner repeated.

Lucas, who unlike Peyton was keeping his gaze locked on her, broke in, "Sir, is the motive for doing it really as important as the fact that she did it?"

Turner gave him an irritated glance, "Yes, it does, when you're accusing someone with no proof."

"I already told you, I talked to Rachel right after. She didn't think anyone would turn her in."

Peyton had closed her eyes, and was listening to them talk. She wanted to disappear.

"Be that as it may, Mr. Scott, I still need to hear that from Peyton." He looked at her, a measured gaze, waiting.

Peyton addressed the floor of the office. "We've had a couple run-ins, outside of school…"

Before Turner could respond, Lucas added, "And inside school. And it was always Rachel-"

"Luke." Peyton broke her vow and turned to look at him, her eyes half angry, half pleading.

"But it's true, Peyton! She's threatened you, and she tore your drawing, and she hit-"

"How would you know?! You weren't even there!" Peyton snapped, momentarily forgetting where she was.

Lucas swallowed his next comment immediately, shame burning. His knuckles were white in his lap, and now he stared down at them, mumbling, "Yeah…I guess that's true."

Peyton looked away, too, embarrassed at the outburst. Turner looked back and forth between the two of them. "So…what all has done?"

"The car." Peyton answered firmly. "She keyed my car Friday. That's all I know."

Turner nodded slowly. "Alright. I'll certainly speak to her-"

"Speak to her?" Lucas repeated, his head snapping up, eyes hard. "Principal Turner, she told me she's going to lie and say she's was changing for cheer practice…"

Principal Turner was beginning to look impatient. "Is there anyone else who saw her?"

Lucas thought briefly of the crowd of onlookers, none of whom would rat Rachel out. "No…yes! Skills Taylor. Antwon," he amended.

Turner made a note. "He saw her key the car?"

"Well, no, he saw her talking to me after."

Turner nodded indulgently. "Alright. Well, I'll certainly speak to Mr. Taylor, and Ms. Gatina as well."

Lucas' expression hardened. But at a glance from Peyton, he simply nodded. "Okay."

"Thank you," Peyton muttered unnecessarily.

Turner nodded at her. "If you think of anything else, Ms. Sawyer, do let us know. I'm sorry."

Peyton stood up, gratefully turning to leave the office; but Lucas was right on her heels.

"Peyton!"

She was walking swiftly, trying to pretend he wasn't there, but he was faster and caught up with her just down the hall outside the front office. "Hey…I'm sorry I went to Turner without asking you, but I-"

"That's what you're sorry for?" Peyton muttered.

"-I just can't stand her getting away with everything. It's not fair."

"Yeah, well, that's life sometimes, isn't it?" She retorted, still walking, her gaze ahead. They moved out of the building, so Peyton could cross campus, even though she knew for a fact Lucas' second period was in the building they'd just left.

Lucas abruptly stepped in front of her, turning so they were face to face, and said in a rush, "I just wanted her to own up to what she'd done. And speaking of owning up…can we talk?"

Peyton rolled her eyes, ignoring the way his eyes, soft and remorseful, made her heart seize up. "Did you plan that one."

He smiled, her undoing. "Kind of."

Peyton was quiet for a moment, then said decisively, "Okay, fine. We can talk. But I'm going first."

"Um…yeah, okay. Go for it."

As soon as the words left his mouth, Peyton slammed her fist against his shoulder, a repeat of Saturday afternoon. "How dare you?! You show up at my house, the second time we have spoken in weeks, you kiss me and then…" Her voice caught. "You treat me like some worthless, one night stand…rebound fuck!"

The raw pain in her voice was enough to make Lucas' chest ache. "Peyt-"

She continued before he had a chance to interrupt, "Do you think I just…just have sex with whoever?! Do you think that's something I do all the damn time? Is that it? Because I have news for you, it's not." She paused, her chest heaving, and suddenly her face crumpled, and her voice was thick when she added, "I said don't leave, Lucas! And you looked right at me and said you wouldn't!"

"I know," he whispered. "But-"

"I'm still talking," she snapped shakily. "I don't know if the artwork or the parental situation or whatever was enough to tip you off, but I have some slight abandonment issues, and, yeah, that's my own problem, but I would have thought you of all people wouldn't…" Her voice broke, and she had to look away from him. "I want so bad to hate you for doing that, but I can't, because as I mentioned, I was an idiot and fell for you. And what's really sad it's my own damn fault…I knew who you were when I met you, and I kept the accident thing from you, and I knew it was a bad idea to get…involved or whatever, but I did it anyway because I couldn't make myself stay away from you. I've screwed up, and I've made some shitty decisions but this…this is on you, and if you didn't want me you should've just…you should've just fucking stopped."

With that, Peyton stopped talking, ducking her head and bringing an unsteady hand up to cover her face. She was crying, and she hated herself for it.

Lucas wanted so badly to pull her into his arms it ached. But he kept his distance, waiting.

Peyton drew in a shuddery breath and said in as sarcastic a voice as she could manage, "Your turn."

Lucas didn't speak. He waited, letting the silence stretch. Finally, finally, Peyton glanced up at him, as if to make sure he was still there, and it was then, as soon as her eyes locked with his, that Lucas said simply, "I love you." He half-smiled, and clarified, "I'm in love with you."

There was a lump in Peyton's throat that felt like her own heart, still and silent. She couldn't speak.

Lucas waited a moment, making sure his declaration sank in. Then, he continued in a low voice, "That's why I left. I know that sounds stupid, but…being in love with you…it made me realize I was never really in love with Brooke. The weird thing is, I think she knew it, but I never really did. It's like I need to know what it really felt like, and now I do.

"It's just that…that's a tough thing to realize, that you never loved your girlfriend, when she's dead. And when I went to sleep….God, Peyt I was so damn happy. More than I'd ever been in my life, but…I woke up in the middle of the night just…panicking.

"I didn't mean to leave," he explained earnestly. He was slightly disconcerted by the way Peyton's expression hadn't changed since after he said he loved her. "I went to the bathroom, had some water…I felt claustrophobic and, and it hurt to breathe…it was like I was having a panic attack. And I went outside, to get air, and I just…I started walking, and I ended up on the River Court at sunrise without realizing how I got there.

"So I'm sorry. And I didn't…I never wanted to hurt you. And I didn't leave because I didn't want to be with you or because…because I don't love you." He paused, then added, "And by the way I wanted to say it back on Friday night but…I just couldn't get it out. So I'm telling you now." He repeated it one more time, "I love you."

Peyton continued to stare at him, her eyes wide and unblinking. After several long moments of silence hung over them, Peyton sighed shakily, blinking hard, sending two tears splashing down, which she quickly swiped with the tip of her fingers.

Lucas moved closer instinctively, wanting to comfort.

Peyton opened her mouth, pausing before she whispered, "But you just left. When…when you got to the River Court you didn't turn around and come back you just…you stayed away."

"I know," Lucas said quietly. "And I'm sorry for that. The guilt was…it was bad."

Peyton looked up at him. "And now?"

"Now, it's okay. I…I went to the cemetery. I remembered what you said, about talking to your mom, so I went to talk to Brooke, and…it's better. It sounds so…crazy, but I think…I think Brooke gave me a sign that it's okay."

Peyton was staring intently at the ground. She was so afraid to care, so afraid to trust him, but he was breaking her and she couldn't help but believe him when he looked at her like that. She muttered, "Well, now that you've got her approval…" She regretted the words instantly, because they came out just as a defense.

Lucas didn't seem to mind, though. "I'm sorry I didn't come back."

Peyton nodded for too long, then blurted out, "I thought you…regretted it."

Lucas brushed the back of his fingers gently against her cheek, looked her in the eye and said firmly, "Never."

Peyton let his fingers linger briefly before pulling back. "I have to go…back to class," Peyton said weakly.

"Oh….right, okay." Lucas paused, then added tentatively, "See you later?"

"I…maybe. I don't know." Peyton turned quickly, walking away. After a moment, though, she turned and added, "Thank you…for going to Turner and everything. I know you were trying to…protect me."

Lucas smiled, a tinge of sadness in it, "I wish I was doing a better job."

LPLPLPLPLP

"So did you tell her?"

Lucas glanced at his brother. They were an hour into practice, and Nathan had steadily avoided him up until this moment. "You're talking to me now?"

"I'm still pissed. But the state championship's tomorrow night. We're a team, and you and me have to work together to win this thing…we deserve it, and so does Whitey." He grabbed a ball from the rack beside and shot. "But I'm still pissed at you."

"Good to know." Lucas grabbed a ball himself, shooting. "And, yeah, I told her."

"And?"

He sighed. "I don't know. She didn't seem as angry but she still…she left." He shot. "I think she's scared to trust me."

"Smart girl."

Lucas opted to ignore the comment. "I'm going to call her tonight, ask her to come to the game."

"What good will that do?"

He grinned. "It's hard to be mad at someone who just won the state championship…or lost it."

"I don't even want to hear you joke about that," Nathan said stiffly.

LPLPLPLPLP

"Did you and Lucas talk?"

Peyton glanced at Haley out of the corner of her eye; she was giving her a ride to Karen's Café for her shift. "Uh, yeah, we did."

"And?" Haley looked at her expectantly.

She sighed. "I don't know. He was really sweet and genuine and just…Lucas. He explained and….God, I want to just not give a rat's ass, you know? But….he's confused and he's struggling and I knew that…I'm just scared of that feeling."

"What feeling?"

"That feeling of waking up without him…." She smiled thinly, "Being alone is easier when you're expecting it."

LPLPLPLPLP

"Hello?"

"Hey, Peyton," came Lucas' voice, floating from the other end of the phone. "It's me."

Peyton gripped the phone until her knuckles were white. She had been thinking about Lucas all afternoon, reliving their conversation and trying to work out her feelings about it; she wasn't sure if she was ready to talk to him so soon, "Hey. Uh, what's up?"

"Nothing really, I just got out of practice…you know the state championship's tomorrow night."

"Oh, yeah, I forgot about that." She paused, awkwardly. "Good luck. I hope you guys win."

"Thanks. Me, too. It's Whitey's last year, and he really deserves a championship…and this is something we've been wanting forever."

Peyton smiled a little in spite of herself, "You know, you told me the day I met you that you guys were going all the way this year."

She could hear the smile, as well as the relief, in Lucas' voice as he said in a mock-innocent tone, "Really? I said that."

"Uh, yeah, I think definitely was the word you used."

"I guess I'm pretty smart."

She laughed a little. "Guess so."

Another awkward silence settled, but Lucas broke it quickly by blurting, "Will you come?"

"To what? The game?"

"Yeah. I mean, I know it's in Raleigh and everything…but it's going to be worth it. And I…I'd really like it if you came."

Lucas waited, nervous, listening to the silence. Then Peyton's voice, quiet and hesitant, "I don't know, Luke…"

"C'mon…you want to follow through don't you? See if my prediction was right."

"A little." She hesitated. "I'll think about it, okay?"

Lucas knew this was probably the best he could hope for. "Okay. Thanks, Peyt."

"Bye, Lucas."

"Bye."

LPLPLPLP

Peyton had barely sat down in first period the next morning when Haley asked breathlessly, "So you're coming to the game, right?"

Peyton raised an eyebrow, replying laughingly, "Is there more than one answer to that question?"

"There shouldn't be."

"Haley-"

"Peyton, please come. I know how those guys are about basketball, Nathan and Lucas both, and this is like the most important thing that's ever happened to them. It's their dream. And Lucas really wants you to be there. And who knows, it may be the perfect way for you two to just get away from the drama and just-"

Peyton bit back a smile. "Well, calm down, okay? I'm coming."

Haley stopped talking abruptly, blinking at her. "Really?"

"Really. I'll probably have to sit somewhere in seclusion, but-"

"No, no, you can sit with Karen and Keith…Karen really likes you, and Keith's great."

"You haven't planned this at all, huh?"

Haley grinned sheepishly. "So I can tell Lucas next period that you are definitely coming, right? Because you know he's going to ask."

"Tell him I'm coming. For sure."

Haley smiled. "Good."

LPLPLPLPLP

Lucas was feeling great.

The locker room was buzzing with pre-game excitement, and he was pumped. His mind was off the drama and the confusion for the first time in days. They could win, he knew they could. And after, he would see Peyton. She had agreed to come, and he took that as a very good sign.

"Warm-ups." Whitey commanded.

The crowd erupted in cheers as they took the court to warm up. This alone was enough to get the adrenaline pumping.

When Lucas found himself in the back of the line for lay-ups, he turned, scanning the crowd. The RBC Center was packed, but he soon located his mom and Keith and Deb, then Dan (sitting separate and alone, of course) and many other people from school.

He didn't see Peyton.

"Luke." Nathan snapped him out of his search just in time for Lucas to take his shot; he missed.

Then he looked again, even taking in the other side of the bleachers that Pontiac seemed to have claimed.

"Lucas," Nathan said sharply. "Focus."

"Peyton's not here yet."

Nathan rolled his eyes. "So she's probably running late. Or you didn't see her, this place is packed. Don't worry about it…we have a championship to win."

"Yeah, okay."

But by the time the Ravens returned to the locker game for one more pre-game pep talk, the feeling of well-being had disappeared, and Lucas had an uneasy panic in the pit of his stomach that he'd only felt once before.

Lucas was about to go to Rachel's, where Brooke had told him to pick her up before the banquet. He checked it watch; still too early.

He patted his suit pocket, checking for the tickets they'd had to purchase the previous week. They weren't there.

Maybe Brooke had them; she and Rachel had been in charge of decorating and arranging the banquet, so she'd picked the tickets up. For some reason, Lucas couldn't recall for the life of him whether she had ever given them to him.

Sighing, Lucas grabbed his cell phone, calling her to check.

Four rings, and then, "Hey, this is Brooke, leave a message."

He hung up, frowning. Brooke's cell phone was as vital to her existence as a right arm. He rarely got voicemail.

She and Rachel were supposed to be setting up for another idiotic party Rachel was throwing after the banquet; she could have easily been changing clothes by now, or carrying things to the area around Rachel's pool; anything that would explain her momentary lack of a phone.

But for some reason, there was a knot twisting in the pit of his stomach, a sudden, unshakable and unjustified feeling that something was wrong.

He searched half-heartedly through his room, making sure the tickets hadn't been placed somewhere else. He was still too early to head over to Rachel's when his phone rang.

He snapped it up without looking, "Hello?"

"Lucas…"

The knot tightened. "Mom? What's wrong? Where are you?" She was supposed to be at Café.

"Luke, I got a call from the hospital…there was an accident."

Lucas didn't hear a word of Whitey's pregame speech. All thoughts of the game had left his mind; he was afraid he might be sick.

As they lined up to file out of the locker room, Nathan and Lucas in the front, Nathan shot his brother a sideways glance. "You ready for this?"

Lucas looked at him, "Something's wrong, Nate…." At Nathan's confused look, he added, "With Peyton."

Nathan rolled his eyes, "Luke, she's either running a little late, or she's out there and you didn't see her. Or she decided not to come, which is honestly just as likely. Nothing's wrong. Get your head in this, alright?"

However, as they jogged past the cheerleaders, Lucas whispered to Haley, "Where's Peyton?"

Haley shrugged, "You sure she's not here?"

"Positive." And he was.

LPLPLPLPLP

Nathan took deep gulps of air in one of the few moments where play stopped. He was having the game of his life, or at least of the season; he was everywhere, he was the whole team.

And that was the problem.

Lucas was killing him.

All season, it had been about them. They were the captains, the team stars, and they worked together amazingly well.

Except for tonight. Lucas was clearly preoccupied. When he wasn't glancing at the door, he was taking sloppy shots, weakly executing plays, barely playing defense.

The other guys, who usually stepped up to match Lucas and Nathan's spirit, had been dragging half-heartedly from the moment the Ravens had begun to fall behind.

It was 36 to 21 at the half, and Whitey was dead quiet as he led them into the locker room.

Nathan looked at his brother with a flash of irritation; Lucas was standing still, scanning the crowd, not even seeming bothered at the score.

"Hey…" Haley approached Nathan quickly. "Is Luke okay?"

"You mean besides him playing like crap?" Nathan asked. "Yeah. He's got this idea that something's wrong with Peyton."

Haley's eyes drifted over to Lucas. "He's sure she's not here?"

"I guess so." Lucas began to head to locker room with the rest of the team, and Nathan realized he better join them. "Listen, I gotta go."

"Okay…" She offered her husband a smile. "You're doing great."

He smiled back. "Thanks…won't do much good if he doesn't snap out of it, though."

Haley looked thoughtful for a moment. "I'll take care of it, okay." She kissed him quickly. "Go be great."

LPLPLPLPLP

Ten minutes later, Lucas walked out of the locker room alone, still unfocused and distracted in spite of Whitey's halftime speech. His mind was on Peyton; he suddenly didn't care about the game. He wanted it to be over her, so he could get to her.

"Hey!" Lucas turned to see Nathan running to catch up to him, his expression agitated. "You're killing me out there, man! You need to get in the damn game."

Looking away from him to scan the packed stands, Lucas simply stated, yet again, "Peyton's not here. She told Haley she was coming, for sure, and she's not here."

Nathan let out a frustrated groan that was more like a snarl. "She probably decided not to come! Maybe she realized she doesn't want to see you."

Lucas ignored this, fixing wide eyes on his brother. "Something's wrong. I just…I have a bad feeling."

Nathan sighed, taking in Luke's pale face, the genuine fear in his eyes. "Look. There is nothing you can do in the next sixteen minutes to help Peyton, who is probably fine, anyway. It's the state championship, Luke, and we need you. C'mon it's almost over."

Lucas started to nod when he heard a voice from behind, "Luke!"

He whirled; Haley was standing with the other cheerleaders, beckoning him over. "Hey, I just called Peyton. She's fine, she was late leaving because she forgot to print directions."

Lucas exhaled shakily, surprised with the strength of his relief. "So she's okay? And she's coming?"

"Yeah, she said she's fifteen minutes away, so she'll be here by the fourth quarter, hopefully" She smiled, "Relax. And step it up out there, you're embarrassing."

Lucas grinned, and swatted her playfully on the shoulder. "Thanks, Hales."

Nathan smiled gratefully at his wife, "Have I mentioned I love you?"

She grinned, "You better."

He and Lucas made their way onto the court. "You good now?"

Lucas glanced at the scoreboard, his desire for the championship suddenly renewed. Peyton was coming; she was okay, and she was coming…she was coming for him.

He held a fist out to his brother, both an agreement and peace offering from the tension that had plagued them for the past few days. "Let's do this, little brother."

Nathan smiled, touching his fist against Luke's.

Haley smiled to herself, watching her best friend and her husband bump fists and walk out on the court together, certain she was witnessing a ceasefire.

"C'mon," she heard Teresa say bossily. "Time to line back up."

Haley turned and followed the others behind the goal. After a second, she turned to Bevin, "Where's Rachel?"

"I don't know." Bevin looked around, clearly just realizing their captain had disappeared. "Bathroom, maybe?"

Haley shrugged, not really caring.

LPLPLPLPLP

Rachel had heard Haley tell Lucas that Peyton was less than ten minutes to the RBC Center, and from that moment on she had been filled with a white hot fury. She'd spent the entire game cheering half-heartedly, the only thought in her mind being that Brooke should've been there.

And Peyton was coming. And Lucas was relieved; he'd been upset when she hadn't been there, even though she didn't care about a state championship to a school she'd barely attended. It was Brooke who would have cared. It was Brooke he should be missing.

And Rachel had left. She had headed to the girls locker room they'd changed in and stolen Teresa's keys from her purse. Teresa had driven her, Becky and Bevin to Raleigh. Rachel didn't have a license, but it didn't matter.

She was going to finish this.

She could hear Brooke in her head, as clear as if she was sitting next to her, I never thought I'd see you leave your squad at a championship.

Rachel answered aloud, "They'll have to make do without either captain."

Crazy Bitch.

Rachel laughed, "You may be right this time, you slut."

Be careful not to smash up your face, I doubt they can fix it up twice.

"I won't be smashing anything. Of mine anyway."

LPLPLPLPLP

From the beginning of the third quarter, Lucas had done a complete turnaround. He was playing like a man possessed, fierce and determined. Nathan was no longer the whole team; he had Lucas, and the two of them began demonstrating the teamwork that had been the team's saving grace all season, quickly diminishing Pontiac's lead. The other guys stepped up as well, as if Luke's renewed will was contagious.

By the end of the third quarter, Pontiac was still ahead, 52 to 45, but they had lost dominance. Their exhaustion was showing, and they were running scared, whereas the Ravens were energetic and carefully orchestrating their comeback.

Lucas could feel the buzzing of excitement in the huddle between the third and fourth quarters; they were in control now, and they knew it.

When they headed back to the court, Nathan grinned at Lucas. "Nice turnaround."

"Thanks," he glanced over at the cheerleaders, "But don't give me too much credit. Rachel didn't come back after halftime, so it's like the darkness is gone."

Nathan laughed. "Let's finish this."

Play continued, Nathan and Lucas leading the Ravens. At one point, during a time-out by Pontiac, with only three minutes left, Nathan caught Lucas scanning the crowd.

Lucas bit his lip nervously. Nathan clapped a hand on his shoulder. "Focus."

He nodded. "Focusing." But in truth, he felt a stab of disappointment. It wasn't so much about the worry at this point; he actually felt a little silly after Haley had said he'd talked to her. But he'd wanted her here, especially now that a feeling of well being, as if he could do anything, had come over him. If they could win the state championship, then surely he could fix things with Peyton, maybe in the middle of a little post-championship euphoria buzzing through the air.

He shook it off; he hadn't been paying attention, it was possible she'd come in within the last few minutes and he'd missed it.

With two minutes left, the score was 65 to 60. Within moments, Nathan, double-teamed, found Lucas outside; he quickly sunk a three pointer.

That score remained, 63 to 65, and soon there were 28 seconds left, and one of the Pontiac players drove to the hoop. As he leaped up, raising the ball to shoot, Lucas came from behind and slammed the ball out of his hand.

Tyler Yelton, from the Ravens, recovered the steal and passed to Nathan, who called a time-out.

In their huddle, Whitey made eye contact with each of the players. "You have made a hell of a comeback, played as a team. And even if we lose this thing it's still a damn fine moral victory. Now, maybe that's okay with you. Maybe you want to look back and tell your grandkids about the state championship you almost won."

"No, way," Nathan said firmly. "We're winning this game." His eyes flickered to his brother. "Right, Luke?"

Lucas smiled, nodding. "We're winning this game." He followed the others back onto the court, his eyes flickering from the stands to the door one more time. He glanced at the clock. Twenty-three seconds left; he could put her out of his mind long enough to do this for his team. He addressed his brother, "Hey. It doesn't mean anything if you can't hit the shot."

Nathan smiled. "Sounds familiar."

"Let's do this, little brother." They knocked fists once more before heading to their spots on the court.

Lucas tried to put Peyton out of his mind, tried to put the clock out of his mind. One good play and they could do it. A two pointer would force overtime, and a three pointer would win it for the Ravens.

With ten seconds left, Nathan was driving to the hoop. Five seconds. He shook the defender, and faked a layup; at the last second, he turned, hurling the ball out to Lucas, who stepped behind the three pointer line.

An unexplained sense of well-being fell over Lucas, and it was with ease that he took the shot. As soon as the ball left his hands, the world seemed to move in slow motion, a silence settling over the gym.

The ball fell through the hoop, the swish unnaturally loud in the silence. And in the next second, the gym exploded with cheers.

Lucas was vaguely aware of Nathan and the rest of his team flooding toward him. He was vaguely aware of the cheerleaders running, of the crowd leaving the stands and flooding the court, of confetti fluttering down.

Lucas' grin took over his face; he felt like his heart was too large for his chest. He turned, almost certain that he would see Peyton in the crowd, a physical manifestation of his happiness, his triumph.

His face fell. She wasn't there. People were trying to hug him, clapping him on the shoulder, congratulating, but it was as though a muffled silence had settled over the crowd. The only person he wanted to see was Peyton; this moment was nothing without her there.

He moved through the crowd, scanning in vain for Peyton. She wasn't there.

Lucas turned around, saw Nathan and Haley locked in an embrace.

Suddenly, his heart plummeted. Rachel was gone. Peyton, who had been ten minutes away, hadn't come.

Haley finally let go of her husband and tried to shove through the crowd toward Lucas, pulling Nathan behind her. Haley was flushed and smiling, "Look at who came back with and made the winning shot!!" She started to hug him, but he shrugged her off.

"Haley, when did Rachel leave?"

"I don't know, she was there before I talked to you at halftime." She hit him playfully, "Why aren't you psyched?"

"Yeah, dude, we won! We're state champs!"

Lucas heart constricted, and without another word, he spun, running as quickly as he could through the crowd and out of the RBC Center.

LPLPLPLPLP

Peyton had hung up with Haley, feeling slightly guilty for lying to her. She wasn't late because she'd forgotten to print out directions to Raleigh, which even she'd thought was a weak excuse, but Haley hadn't questioned it.

The truth was, she'd changed her mind about going no less than a dozen times before leaving.

Ultimately, though, she realized that no matter how much she tried to deny it, she was always going to go. Because it was important to him, and because he'd asked.

She didn't know what was going to happen when she saw him; she didn't know if she was ready to take another chance on him. Peyton wasn't going to be forgetting that feeling of waking up alone anytime soon, but forgiving him for it would get easier, she could already tell.

Soon, she was less than a mile from the Center. She had the radio on, listening to the game, and Peyton couldn't stop a smile from spreading as she listened the announcer describing the leadership of Lucas and Nathan Scott, who were putting the Ravens on the verge of a major comeback. It was late in the fourth quarter (she'd been a little further than she'd estimated, apparently), but she would be there for the end.

She would be there for the part where she got to see him.

The street was dark and almost empty, as if the rest of the world was busy following a high school championship. Then, from the distance, Peyton saw a car switch on its lights and pull from the side of the road, suddenly heading in the direction from which Peyton had just come.

Just as they were about to drive past each other, Peyton paying no attention to the other car, it swerved suddenly to its left, crashing against Peyton's car.

LPLPLPLPLPLP

The car Rachel was driving veered out of control, skidding against Peyton's for a moment, until Peyton's car spun out of the way and Rachel found herself careening off the road.

She straightened her wheel hurriedly, slamming the breaks. The airbag exploded open in front of her as Teresa's car slowed to a stop, the back end of Teresa's car on the shoulder of the road, the front end sticking out, facing Peyton's wreck.

Rachel was breathing hard, exhilarated. She shifted the car to Park, just sitting. She looked out the passenger side window. Peyton's car had spun further down the road, ended up with the passenger side pressed against a tree trunk on the side.

She stared, and said quietly, "See, Brooke? I got her. It's over. We're even."

LPLPLPLPLPLP

It was like sinking into an old nightmare, one that had begun two months ago; the same sickening crash of metal colliding on metal, the screams that didn't seem to come from her, the sudden absence of control.

The backseat on the driver's side caught most of the impact of the car, and it sent Peyton's spinning away, off course. She closed her eyes she felt her left hand slam against glass, and then, there was a crash, glass shattering, and her car abruptly shuddered to a stop.

Peyton opened her eyes slowly. The passenger side of her car was caved in the middle, against a tree. Her left arm was slick with blood, the window next to her shattered.

She gingerly moved every limb, her heart rate beginning to slow as she realized she was okay. She sat still for a long time, waiting to breathe normally.

Dimly, she realized the radio was still going, and as she sat, listening, she could hear a crackling voice inform her that Lucas Scott was making the game winning shot.

Peyton looked up. She had ended up facing the other car, which was momentarily unfamiliar. Its headlights were on, and Peyton squinted, just making out a head of red hair in the driver's side.

It hit her. The car belonged to one of the other cheerleaders, she wasn't sure which, and Rachel had done this.

For a moment Peyton couldn't find anger. She could only think, in complete shock: She was trying to kill me.

Peyton could see Rachel more clearly now she'd placed her; she was staring straight ahead, looking at nothing, a twisted sort of smile on her face.

It was this, the smile, that allowed the numbness to dissolve, the hot surge of rage to overtake her.

Peyton was calm in her fury. She opened the door and stepped out, stopping momentarily stopping to survey the damage. Her anger grew as she forced herself to admit the car was probably totaled.

She loved that fucking car.

The keyed message was garbled and unreadable, something Peyton couldn't help but find ironic.

Still composed, Peyton began walking slowly toward Rachel's car, her heart pounding, adrenaline pumping.

She had tried to kill her.

Well, Peyton was finishing this. She didn't have half the student body around, ready to leap to her defense like they had in the hallway.

LPLPLPLPLP

Rachel didn't notice the movement at first. She was sitting in the car, staring dazedly at the wreck, listening to the game on the radio, thinking that Lucas' night was about to go down a pretty steep hill in spite of his game winning shot.

Then she saw it, illuminated in her headlights. Peyton was walking toward her.

Walking.

Rachel stared, disbelieving. Peyton was fine.

Typical, Brooke's voice floated by, teasingly. You try to kill a person in a car and she escapes without a scratch. Me, on the other hand, you don't even have to try…

"Stop it!" Rachel yelled, a note of hysteria creeping in.

How is that possible? One red light, an accident, a moment of recklessness, and Brooke was dead. A decision, an intentional crash, and Peyton walked away.

Shaking with anger, tears rolling down her cheeks, Rachel whispered, "It's not over." She reached out and changed from Park to Drive.

LPLPLPLPLP

Peyton leveled her gaze with Rachel, staring at her, wide-eyed and pale, from inside the car. Peyton was heading for the driver's side, ready to drag her out and finish this.

Rachel flicked on her brights, and Peyton was momentarily blinded; then she heard the squeal of tires, and suddenly Rachel's car was shooting forward.

For a nanosecond, Peyton was paralyzed. Then, she began to run, heading off the road.

She had taken three long strides when it happened, something heavy, blinding pain, then darkness.

LPLPLPLPLP

Her body flew up, cracking against the windshield, and Rachel swerved in panic. Peyton's body, limp and lifeless, slid off the car and crumpled in the road.

Rachel was skidding from the sharp turn, and she attempted to correct quickly, the car ending up crashing against the other car, so Peyton's Comet was sandwiched between Teresa's car and the tree.

Rachel pulled her seatbelt off, turning in the seat, eyes roaming wildly.

Peyton's body was crumpled in the road, in the middle of one lane. She wasn't moving.

Rachel sighed shakily. "I did it."

I guess you did. Brooke's voice was flat.

Rachel's eyes slid to the passenger seat, almost expecting to see Brooke sitting there. She wasn't, of course she wasn't, but her voice continued, Was it worth it?

And for some reason, Rachel began to cry.

LPLPLPLPLP

Lucas' feet pounded against the road, the cold air burning his lungs in throat. He didn't know what he expected to find, but he knew, instinctively, that it was going to be bad.

Rachel had heard Haley tell him Peyton was close. Rachel had disappeared after that.

Yeah. It was going to be bad.

After a few minutes, he could see the dim light of headlights down the road. Whatever car it was coming from was off the side, facing the opposite direction. His legs pumped even faster, and without even meaning to, Lucas heard himself yell, "PEYTON!"

He moved close enough to make out the wreckage; at first, he could only see the large Explorer he recognized as Teresa's. Then, his stomach dropping, his blood running cold, he could make out Peyton's car, on the other side, squeezed between the Explorer and a tree.

It was the worst case scenario, he thought.

But then he saw her.

A strangle scream ripped from his throat, and he hurried forward, his knees dying, forcing Lucas to collapse next to her; she was crumpled and broken looking, blood everywhere.

For a moment, every organ in Lucas' body stopped working; he physically could not breathe, his heart seemed to still in his chest, coherent thought disappeared; for that moment, all he knew was pain.

"P-Peyton. Peyton, baby, c'mon….wake up…." His voice trembled. He was terrified to do it, but he reached out a quivering hand and gently found her wrist.

For a moment, he couldn't find a pulse, and his own heart seemed to mimic hers. In the next second, he moved his finger just slightly to the left, and could feel a heartbeat.

He was weak with relief. "Don't scare me like that," he whispered. Tears streaked down his cheeks, and Lucas swallowed hard, trying to think. He continued to speak to her, hoping that somehow she could hear him. "Okay. I'm going to get you some help. You're going to be okay, girlie…you have to be."

He didn't have a phone; he had run out in his Ravens uniform, he glanced down the street, dimly making out an outline in the Explorer.

He moved to a crouching position, one hand resting gently on Peyton's cheek. "I'm going to get help, okay? But I'll be right back…I'm not leaving you this time, I promise."

Lucas stood, choking back sobs as he stumbled forward, heading toward the cars.

He jerked open the driver's door of Rache's car. She was staring straight ahead, crying silently. This garnered no sympathy; he pulled her by the shoulders, ignoring her surprised scream, jerking her out of the car and shoving her roughly on the grass.

Rachel stared up at him, her face paper white, eyes huge. There was so much he could say, so much pain he wanted to inflict right now, but he made himself think of Peyton.

"Where's your phone?!" he yelled, his voice scratchy.

"My…my…what?"

"Where is your phone, you fucker, give me your phone!"

"I-I don't have one, I only took the keys."

"Shit…" Lucas moved over to Peyton's car, but the way it was crushed made it impossible to get inside.

The world spun before him; he was genuinely panicking now. Closing his eyes, Lucas drew in heavy gulps of air, then looked up, finding Peyton. He had to save her. He had to think.

He was pretty sure Teresa's car wasn't in condition to drive, but just in case he reached in and grabbed the keys, pocketing them. He didn't want Rachel getting away.

Rachel was picking herself up off the ground, and before Lucas could stop him, he jerked her by the arm, leaning close. "You better pray to God she doesn't die," he hissed. "Because so help me if she's not alright, I will forget that you're a girl, or that you were Brooke's best friend, and I will make you pay." He shoved her again, just enough so she'd lose her footing, and then he sprinted off toward Peyton.

Lucas knew some things. He knew he probably shouldn't move her, but he didn't see another option. So as gently as he could, he scooped her up in his arms. His throat tightened; she felt boneless, so light and lifeless.

He let her arm drape around his neck, shifting so her head rested on his shoulder.

And he began to walk, back to the center, the only place he knew nearby; there were no houses on the street.

"I love you." He said quietly, only because he wished that he had said it more than once. "God, I love you, and I'm sorry."

If she was okay, he promised himself, he would tell her a hundred times a day. He would make sure she knew, and he would make sure she believed it.

LPLPLPLPLP

"Haley!" Karen pushed her way through the crowd, Keith just behind her.

The celebration was showing little sign of dying down. Confetti still fluttered everywhere, and the team had gathered around the trophy, taking photos.

Karen glanced over toward the team, surrounding Whitey and grinning triumphantly. "Where's Lucas?"

Haley gave her an apologetic look. "I don't know, he ran off right after….I think he was trying to find Peyton.

Karen frowned, exchanging an uneasy glance with Keith. "We've been all over the gym, I didn't see either of them…I thought Lucas would be with the team."

Haley shrugged helplessly. "She was supposed to come, and I don't think she ever showed up and I think…Lucas was afraid something had happened."

LPLPLPLPLP

With difficultly, Lucas maneuvered the door to the gym open and stepped inside.

The crowd was still there, calmer but not by much.

The hush came slowly, and only affected to people on the outskirts of the mob as they noticed Lucas Scott, the Ravens player who had scored the game winning shot, holding an unconscious girl in his arms, both of them covered with blood in places.

Lucas raised his voice, "Someone call 911, now!"

A woman close to him rummaged in her purse and pulled out a cell phone, quickly dialing 911.

Lucas' voice seemed to be moving an autopilot. "Tell them we need an ambulance at the RBC center immediately…"

LPLPLPLPLP

Standing with Keith and Karen, both waiting for Nathan to be done with the endless photo opportunities and repeatedly trying Lucas' cell, Haley was only dimly aware of slight quieting of the commotion on the other side of the gym.

She sighed, hanging up the cell phone for what felt like the twentieth time. "Still no answer…he ran off so fast I doubt he went back to get it…"

Karen thanked her for trying, and Haley glanced over at her husband, a little disappointed for Lucas not being there for the celebration.

Nathan saw it first. Haley watched the grin on his face drop, watch his mouth round into a perfect O, watched the color drain from his face.

Haley turned, following his line of vision, and after a moment, she caught a glimpse at what had his attention.

"Oh, my God…"

Nathan ran forward, effectively ruining about twenty photos. Haley followed him instantly, as they moved through the crowd.

Karen touched her arm. "What is it?"

Haley seemed to lose the power to form words. She pointed forward.

LPLPLPLPLPLP

"Luke! What the hell happened?"

Lucas looked up from Peyton's face for the first time since he'd entered the gym. Nathan had shoved his way to the front of the crowd, followed by Haley, Karen and Keith.

"Rachel," he choked out.

Haley gripped her husband's arm. She was suddenly afraid she was going to be sick.

Nathan's face twisted, a muscle jumping in his jaw. "Where is she?"

"I-I left her. There was a car crash, but Peyton…she ran her over. I left her, about a mile down the road…"

Karen moved forward suddenly, desperately trying to keep her eyes on her son, rather than drift down to look at Peyton, who was disconcertingly still in his arms. "Luke. Did someone-"

"They called an ambulance, but…" He was fighting tears again; why wasn't it coming?

At the moment, he heard the sirens. The hush ad settled over the entire gym now, and suddenly a group of the basketball players and cheerleaders came into view.

Bevin gasped. Becky sent Teresa a horrified expression. "Did…did Rachel…?"

Haley's eyes were squeezed close. "Yes."

Paramedics flooded in, along with a few police officers.

"What's her name?" One asked Lucas, moving to take Peyton from him.

"P-Peyton Sawyer," he answered in a small voice. As he handed her over, he moved his hand to hers, threading their fingers together, never losing contact.

An officer addressed Lucas, who was standing by the stretcher as the paramedics bent over Peyton, "What happened?"

"She…she was hit by a car…on purpose…the girl who did it, she's still there…"

They began to take Peyton outside, toward the ambulance, and Lucas walked with them, never taking his eyes off Peyton, until the policeman put a hand on his arm. "We need to get a statement, son, you need to tell us-"

Panic rose again. "I-I have to go with her…I have to…" He met Nathan's eyes, his expression pleading.

In an instant, Nathan understood. He nodded slightly, then spoke, "Officer, the accident happened about a half mile down the road, we think there was a car crash first. The other driver, Rachel Gattina, she's still…."

As the officer turned his attention to Nathan, Lucas wordlessly handed the set of keys to Haley, and ran out without a word to his mother or anyone else, catching up in time to jump in the ambulance with Peyton.

Haley felt as though Nathan was talking from far away as he explained their limited knowledge of what had happened. She turned the keys over in her hands, her eyes focusing on a keychain photo of Teresa and her boyfriend. Of course; Rachel's license had been revoked.

Finally, the officer nodded, "We'll go check out the scene. But we're going to need to get a statement from Lucas at the hospital…"

"Fine," Nathan nodded. As soon as the officer's left, he turned to Haley, wild-eyed. "We have to go the hospital…"

"I know." She was suddenly on the verge of tears, and Nathan put an arm around her.

"Haley?" Teresa spoke up softly. "You….you can take my car…"

Haley stared at her. She was abruptly filled with a desire to slap Teresa as hard as she could, but managed to hold back. Instead, she spat, "You don't think you've helped enough? Besides…" She threw the keys down in front of her. "What car do you think Rachel did it with?"

Teresa's face paled, and Haley turned away, looking at Karen, "Can we get a ride?"

Looking thoroughly shaken, Karen nodded only slightly, until Keith's arm came around her and he addressed Haley and Nathan, "Come on."

LPLPLPLPLP

The paramedics were talking, brisk, big words that floated over Lucas like another language. He was crammed to the side on the ambulance, on the tiny bench like seat, his fingers still laced with Peyton's.

Lucas didn't often pray, but now, he was praying. He needed a miracle, for Peyton. She deserved a miracle, even if he didn't.

Please, he mentally repeated the word over and over again, deciding that God would understand what he needed. Please.

Please don't take her from me.

A/N: Review away! Some of the moments in this…the Lucas Peyton confrontation after the principal's office and of course the post-championship win sequence are scenes I've had planned for awhile, so I'd love to know your response. Thanks for reading as always. (Oh, and just a note…if Rachel's behavior seems too extreme, I get that…but I also get that this is the girl who, in canon even, stole God knows how much money from her only friend, lied about being pregnant, and of course swerved a limo off a bridge)